Winter storm warning, blizzard warning, wind chill advisory.
Three days, three ways the atmosphere was attempting to pummel south-central Minnesotans.
Behind Friday’s winter storm, which dropped six inches of snow on Mankato, came Saturday’s howling winds, which delivered arctic air that sent temperatures plummeting for Sunday.
The National Weather Service was warning Saturday afternoon that below-zero temperatures and strong winds carried the prospect of exposed skin “freezing in a minute or two.” Earlier, on Saturday morning, the forecasters were focused on how the fresh snow would be affected by the increasing winds and decided to expand western Minnesota’s blizzard warning into the Mankato area and as far east as Interstate 35.
A half-foot of snow across much of the state was followed by freezing drizzle Friday night, but that coating of ice probably wouldn’t be enough to keep the snow from blowing into a ground blizzard, the forecasters decided.
“The thin layer of ice on top of the snow should be able to break up with this initial period of very strong winds,” the NWS advised in explaining the expanded blizzard warning.
Visibility was significantly reduced in open areas, but white-out conditions were mostly avoided. Still, the blowing snow and plunging temperatures turned highways into ice sheets across southern Minnesota.
“I came from Eagle Lake, and 14 is just nothing but ice,” said Kyle Roberts, manager of the Motel 6 on Highway 22 just north of Highway 14 in Mankato.
The motel was near capacity Saturday night as drivers found highways undrivable and decided to hunker down. Many of the guests had done the same Friday night. A few returned to the roads on Saturday, only to turn back, said desk clerk Kailey Jackson.
“We had a couple of people who tried the highways (on Saturday) and came back, saying they weren’t going to make it,” Jackson said.
At Microtel just off Highway 14, it was the same story.
“Last night was super busy,” Microtel desk clerk Josh Bedi said Saturday afternoon. “We’re fully booked right now.”
Others who didn’t make the choice to pull over could be seen creeping along the crystalline roads, and some could be seen in the ditches, although there were few injury accidents reported by the Minnesota State Patrol in south-central Minnesota.
The one exception involved a 4:23 p.m. Saturday crash on Highway 60 west of St. James. Aasfiam Ebn Moussa, 24, of Windom, suffered non-life-threatening injuries when a westbound Ford Focus rolled into the median on a roadway covered with ice and snow, according to the Patrol. Two other passengers and the driver of the Ford — Samya J. Rangou, 38, of Windom — were uninjured.
People who weren’t paying attention to forecasts in the past week found themselves riding on a weather rollercoaster. Above-average temperatures early in the week were followed by an extended frigid spell that started Wednesday. In New Ulm, for instance, it was 33 straight hours below zero — a streak that came to an end Friday afternoon. But as temperatures climbed into the upper 20s, the snow fell.
The storm was significant enough for Mankato to call a snow emergency that began at 8 p.m. Saturday and will continue until 8 a.m. Sunday.
The precipitation was done by early Saturday morning, and anyone looking to shovel in pleasant weather only needed to get up at 4:30 a.m. In Waseca at that time Saturday, it was 27 degrees and the air was calm.
Shortly thereafter, the big northwest winds kicked in. Over the next three hours, temperatures dropped 13 degrees and the windchill fell 38 degrees to -11. As the day went on, wind gusts climbed over 40 mph and by midafternoon windchills reached -25.
The Weather Service was predicting overnight lows of -6 in Mankato Saturday night — the first of three straight nights with sub-zero temperatures. Sunday’s high is forecast to be 1 degree with windchills as low as -26. Monday’s high will be only slightly better at 6 degrees, but winds are expected to drop off on Monday.
A warming trend arrives on Tuesday, which could give street and highway departments a better opportunity to attack the accumulated ice on pavements across the state.
High temperatures are forecast to reach 30 degrees or above Wednesday through Friday, and there’s a possibility of rain on Wednesday, when temperatures are expected to reach 39 degrees. If the warm-up happens, it will be the third multi-day January thaw already in 2020.